Widell’s whirlwind week

King Kekaulike graduate signs with Twins, heads to club in Tennessee

Minnesota Twins Ryley Widell -- BRACE HEMMELGARN photo

The latest stop on the Ryley Widell professional baseball tour is Elizabethton, Tenn.

His arrival there concluded a whirlwind 72-hour span for Widell — selected by the Minnesota Twins in the seventh round of the Major League Baseball draft last week — that has carried him from Maui to Minneapolis to the Volunteer State.

“That’s a cool feeling,” Widell said after signing his contract Thursday. “The last couple days here in Minnesota have been a lot of fun, got to see the Twins play, got to meet a lot of guys behind the scenes, too.”

Widell, a 2015 King Kekaulike High School graduate, was selected by the Twins with the 196th overall pick in the 40-round draft. His contract carried a signing bonus of $400,000, almost double the approximate pick value listed for his slot on MLB.com

He met a few of the Twins’ big leaguers after he sat directly behind home plate Wednesday night for their 4-2 home victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Ryley Widell and Minnesota Twins general manager Thad Levine sign Widell’s contract Thursday. -- BRACE HEMMELGARN photo

“I was fortunate enough to be not in the locker room, but by it (after the game),” Widell said. “It was a really cool moment. I’m excited to be a Minnesota Twin.”

Widell departed Maui on Tuesday on a red-eye flight to Los Angeles and then took his physical upon arriving in Minneapolis on Wednesday prior to the game. He left for Elizabethton on Friday.

“I’m happy it’s all finalized and I can now concentrate on baseball and playing the game I love,” Widell said.

If Widell chooses to do so, his contract includes four semesters of college “all paid for” if “I’m not playing baseball anymore.”

Widell said he has been told he will begin his pro career out of the bullpen for the Elizabethton Twins, Minnesota’s affiliate in the Rookie-level Appalachian League.

Widell poses with a shaka next to the Twins logo. -- BRACE HEMMELGARN photo

“It will probably take me a week or two to get back into it throwing-wise,” Widell said. “I haven’t thrown bullpens, I actually haven’t thrown off a live mound in a while. They will probably work me into it. I will be suiting up for sure (today).”

Widell, who was 8-2 with a 1.98 ERA this season for Central Arizona Junior College, passed on a scholarship from North Carolina to take the Twins’ offer.

“I’m not quite sure yet what it’s going to feel like when I step out there as a professional for the first time,” he said. “I’m quite sure there’s going to be lots of emotions going on: nervous, excitement.

“Ultimately I would just be out there pinching myself that I did it, you know: ‘I’m here playing baseball.’ “

Widell, who compiled 115 strikeouts over 95 2/3 innings in 16 starts for Central Arizona, has been told he will eventually work into a starter’s role this season.

“Because of the innings I have thrown in the past year, they’re probably not going to put too much stress on me,” he said. “I know I will be starting off a couple times in the bullpen, and then they will probably start me in short, little outings for 10-12 times.”

After the E-Twins’ schedule ends in August, Widell expects to be sent to instructional league in Fort Myers, Fla.

He admitted the last two or three weeks have “been a whirlwind” since he arrived home on June 5, contemplating a year or two in Chapel Hill or professional baseball.

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions for me and my family,” he said. “We kind of were prepped and knew that this was going to happen, but we didn’t know it was going to be this caliber. It was good. After I look at it, and I’m signed and happy, it was a blessing.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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